Playoffs have been rough on Bengals and Reds, so can FC Cincinnati fare better?

'Maybe we can start a new trend'
Posted at 11:00 AM, Oct 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-01 11:00:17-04

CINCINNATI - FC Cincinnati defender Austin Berry is well aware of this city's playoff curse.

As a Cincinnati native and lifelong Reds and Bengals fan, Berry didn't need to be reminded how badly the Queen City could use a postseason victory, but that hasn't stopped people from bringing it up to him, he said.

The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, despite making appearances each of the past five years, and the Reds haven't won a postseason series since 1995.

Berry doesn't want that in the back of his mind as FC Cincinnati heads into its inaugural playoff game this weekend. The first-year club hosts Charleston in a United Soccer League Eastern Division quarterfinal at 4 p.m. Sunday at Nippert Stadium, a game expected to draw close to 30,000 fans.

"I know the history, and it would be awesome to get that playoff win, especially at home," Berry said. "We don't want to fall in line, but this could be the Bengals' season as well. I was there last night and we got the win. Maybe we can start a new trend."

One professional sports team in Cincinnati actually has experienced some postseason success in recent years, but ranks lower on the totem pole in terms of audience. The Cyclones minor-league hockey team, which drew a franchise record 4,565 fans per game to U.S. Bank Arena last year, won two ECHL championships (2009-10 and 2007-08) and made it to the fourth round of the playoffs in 2013-14.

FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding, a former Bengals employee, said it's just been a "string of bad luck" for Cincinnati's major sports teams in the postseason the last two decades, but FC Cincinnati could indeed start a new trend.

"I have a lot of confidence in the Bengals," Berding said. "They have a veteran team and by the end of the year, I believe they will be a good team in the postseason and be competing for a Super Bowl. Maybe the better way to look at it is, ‘Is this the year?' -- not just for FC Cincinnati and the Bengals, but for the Reds, too, who have played well in the second half. Maybe it gives them a lift as they head toward spring training and approach Opening Day next year.

"I fervently believe a rising tide lifts all ships. When the Reds were doing well, that lifted the Bengals, and vice versa. … We've had some bad luck go against us, and it's certainly painful for everyone in those organizations and collectively for the people in Cincinnati. We love this city, and its professional sports teams are a big part of its culture, and you want to do well on the national stage that comes with being in the postseason. I think we'll be ready and hopefully this is the year for all of us to win playoff games."

The Bengals -- and their fans -- certainly hope so.

Defensive tackle Domata Peko, one of the bigger soccer supporters in the Bengals locker room, said he doesn't believe in the curse, but acknowledged it would be good for the city to get a win Sunday on the pitch.

"I'll be cheering for them no matter what," said Peko, who wasn't sure if he would be in town for the game while the Bengals have an off weekend. "It'd be cool if they could get a playoff win their first year."

Carlos Dunlap, a Bengals defensive end who grew up playing soccer, said he was impressed to hear FC Cincinnati made the playoffs in its first year, but win or lose nothing can take away from what already has been a successful season. 

"We've all been great teams," Dunlap said. "As a city, the Reds have had plenty of great teams, the Bengals have been great as of recently and in the old days as well. (The postseason) just adds another fun game for the people of Cincinnati to watch and support, and I wish them the best of luck."

Berry said FC Cincinnati has come a long way since its opener loss to Charleston in a lightning-delayed game on the road March 26 when the Battery won 1-0 on a goal in the 94th minute. The club clinched its playoff berth with seven games left and finished as the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference with the help of the USL Golden Boot winner on its side. Sean Okoli finished with a league-best 16 goals.

The Orange and Blue have played well the last four or five games, he said, especially on defense, allowing just one goal during the five-game unbeaten streak they ride into the postseason. FC Cincinnati is 0-1-1 against the Battery and ready to get its first win in the series that has come full circle.

"I think we're due," Berry said. "We've been watching a lot of film, especially the last game against them and their last few games of the season. We're playing good soccer and we'll be ready."